UT students feel overwhelmed by virtual course load

Ikram Mohamed

Caught in a never-ending cycle of learning and studying for her online courses, Kriss Conklin says the digital nature and workload of her classes is taking a toll on her mental health.

“(I’ve) probably cried more this semester than I've ever cried in my life,” journalism sophomore Conklin said. “We're only like five weeks in, (and) it's not even like I'm sad … the only word is ‘frustrated.’”

With more than 60% of classes fully online this semester, some students say the online nature of courses has amplified feelings of anxiety and stress.  

Conklin said she has felt increasingly overwhelmed since the semester began. She said the pandemic and her focus on schoolwork have made it difficult for her to have social interactions. 

“I’ve definitely been feeling more low just by just being at home,” Conklin said. “Being online is really draining.”

Conklin is doing her online coursework from her home in Houston. She said she feels she has to teach most of the material to herself while keeping up with homework. 

“Having to sit and read through so much and watching video(s), I feel like I’m not really retaining a lot of information,” Conklin said.

Government freshman Lauren Post, who has two in-person and five online courses, said she is grappling with her mental health while attempting to stay on top of her schoolwork. 

“I’m really overwhelmed,” Post said. “I’m not taking care of myself as much. Overall, just not doing well.”

Stephen Strakowski, a psychiatrist at UT’s Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences, said students' mental health decline is largely caused by the loss of social interactions. 

 



“People are hunkered down in their homes, and so they aren't having significant social interactions,” Strakowksi said. “Even with these big Zoom meetings, that's just not the same as being around your friends and colleagues, and so the loss of that social contact is a major contributing factor.”

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, there have been increased risks of moderate to severe levels of depression and anxiety among college students nationally since the pandemic began. 

Though it’s hard to predict, Strakowski said he assumes students' mental health will only continue to decline as the online school year continues. 

“I encourage young people to continue to socialize safely within the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention),” Strakowksi said. “Continue to do that and not just spend the whole day in your house. Study groups, anything that can get you around other people will help temper the current situation.”

Post says she looks for “little pockets of joy” by participating in student organizations and safely socializing with friends. However, the stress is ever-present. 

“I’m never not stressing about homework,” Post said. “Assignments are being piled on one after another. It’s a never-ending game of catch-up.”

Like Post, Conklin said she has spent multiple long nights this semester catching up on assignments rather than spending time with her peers. 

“I’m super drained. It feels like I’m operating on autopilot a lot,” Conklin said. “I don’t ever stop doing work. The reason why I push myself so hard is because once you fall behind, it’s college. It's hard to come back. That’s what I’m scared of.”

While juggling exams and assignments, Post and Conklin said they just want a break. 

“Every single person is going through this anxiety of falling behind and not being able to catch up,” Post said. “We just need a breather.”